Trump, Dorian, Alabama, and a Sharpie

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s erroneous tweet that Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama, his refusal to admit he had made an error, and the attempts of some government employees to redirect reality in order to back him up, will the state of the weather, like climate change or evolution, become a partisan issue?

On Sunday, Sept. 1, Trump tweeted, “In addition to Florida—South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” 

To try to prevent Alabamans from panicking (a hurricane is, after all, a natural disaster), the Birmingham National Weather Service (NWS Birmingham) immediately corrected Trump’s statement, tweeting, “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian… We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”

Apparently, however, it was more important to protect Emperor Trump’s pride by maintaining that he was wearing beautiful new clothes than it was to correct his mistake, even if it threw millions of people into panic: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) directed NWS not to contradict Trump’s tweet, and allegedly threatened firings if they did.

“This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast,” an anonymous NWS Birmingham meteorologist said. “…One of the things we train on is to dispel inaccurate rumors and ultimately that is what was occurring — ultimately what the Alabama office did is provide a forecast with their tweet, that is what they get paid to do.”

Most people would have forgotten about Trump’s erroneous tweet if his obsession with defending it as the truth hadn’t continued through the week to incredible extremes. On Wednesday, after several tweets asserting that he had been right about the forecast for Alabama, Trump held up what looked like a NWS map from the preceding Thursday. On the map, Dorian’s projected path was extended with a black Sharpie to include Alabama.

“We got lucky in Florida — very, very lucky indeed. We had actually, our original chart was that it was going to be hitting Florida directly,” Trump said during a briefing on Hurricane Dorian. “…That was the original chart, you see it was going to hit not only Florida but Georgia … and was going toward the Gulf, that’s what was originally projected. And it took a right turn. And ultimately, hopefully, we’re going to be lucky.”

Meteorologists immediately responded, confirming that the “official” weather map Trump was holding had been doctored by someone holding a Sharpie. 

Meteorologist Ryan Breton tweeted “Can’t let this go unnoticed. @realDonaldTrump displayed a doctored version of the @NHC_Atlantic forecast for #Dorian. 

The black extension past Florida did not exist; that’s not how forecast cones are drawn.” 

The U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of the Inspector General, Peggy Gustafson, is now examining the statement NOAA made on Friday. NOAA employees have been asked to retain their files. 

The National Weather Service “must maintain standards of scientific integrity,” said Gustafson. “(The circumstances) call into question the NWS’s processes, scientific independence, and ability to communicate accurate and timely weather warnings and data to the nation in times of national emergency.”

Donald Trump continues his assertion that he was right about Hurricane Dorian’s predicted threat to the state of Alabama. In reality, however, it was Trump who was a threat to Alabama.

NOAA Backs Trump on Alabama Hurricane Threat | The White House
[2019-09-04]

Donald and the Magic Sharpie | Jimmy Kimmel Live  [2019-09-07]

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